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by Archives February 17, 2009

Some strange things are going on at the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CTRC) these days. On Friday they announced they were limiting the amount Canadian television networks can spend on American shows, and on Sunday they decided they were going to start looking into regulating the Internet. Both ideas are valiant in theory, but completely misguided in reality.
Last year Canadian networks spent $775 million on foreign shows, most of them coming from the United States. In response CRTC now wants to limit this amount by forcing the networks to match spending on American programs dollar for dollar with spending on Canadian ones.
Not a bad idea, but its not necessarily a solution. Making networks buy more Canadian programming will most likely lead to more sub par offerings like Heartland rather than a burst of great new shows. It’s not that Canadians are incapable of producing good television, it’s that the infrastructure is missing. If the government wants more high quality Canadian programming on the airwaves, they should strive to train and keep more Canadian talent by investing in the grass roots, not regulating outcomes.
Moreover, Canadian networks are struggling and now is not the time to enforce more restraints; higher regulations will only make them less competitive. In 2007 their profits dropped more than 90 per cent from $113 million the year before to $8 million. Since the money they make from the advertising that plays during popular American shows helps pay for Canadian programs, it would make sense not to cut that now.
And as if their television interventionism wasn’t enough, the CRTC also feels compelled to start regulating the Internet.
The Commission’s initial position over 10 years ago was to wait until the emerging medium and its world-wide implications were fully understood before moving forward. Now it seems they feel ready, but the move is truly unwarranted.
The CRTC’s primary goal would be to promote the creation of and access to Canadian online content. If that was the goal, we should work on breaking down barriers to make Canadian content more available throughout the world rather than building new walls.
Still, this all seems a little useless. Up to 60 per cent of Canadian households have Internet access, one of the highest penetration rates in the world. Canadians are already using the web in numbers, calling into question whether or not we truly need to launch promotion efforts.
The Internet’s best aspect is by far its diversity. Labelling information to make it seem more Canadian will serve no true purpose.
The CRTC’s primary function is to protect and promote Canadian content, the definition of which is restrictive. The only projects that are recognized are those that are almost entirely Canadian. Even Juno, a movie starring, written by and directed by Canadians didn’t the cut. By over regulating and over incubating Canadian entertainment, the CRTC has made being Canadian an excuse to be bad in the entertainment world.
Maybe we’d all be better off it they just stick to issuing licenses and fielding complaints.

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